Monday, December 27, 2010

Rosemont opponents call for Forest Service to start EIS process over from the beginning

Opponents of the Rosemont copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains of southern Arizona today called on the U.S. Forest Service to throw out the current EIS process and start over from the beginning, which in my estimate would delay a decision on the project by an additional 2-3 years.

Three groups, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), and Farmers Investment Co., argue in a letter to the USFS that "Rosemont or Rosemont Copper’s representatives attended at least 18 of 23 cooperating agency meetings between April 1, 2009 and July 15, 2010," and that the Forest Service met with Rosemont on other occasions without inviting their groups.

They want a new EIS process to start all over, but this time require that all participants be certified under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. They note that FACA does not normally apply to the EIS process:

"The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) applies whenever a federal agency official establishes, manages, or controls a committee, board, or similar group for the purpose of obtaining consensus advice or recommendations on issues or policies within the agency official’s responsibility. Meetings among representatives of governmental entities, however, are exempt from the requirements of FACA when they involve intergovernmental activities associated with managing or implementing federal programs (2 U.S.C. 1534(b))."
But my reading of the opponents letter is that they believe the Forest Service violated the terms of the exemption by allowing Rosemont to be present at the meetings where the cooperating agencies discussed the EIS. My experience is that getting approval for appointments under FACA can take a year or longer, although that might not be the case when it's only government agencies involved. Starting the EIS over would add another one to two years to the process.

Just last week the Forest Service announced that the release of the draft EIS would be delayed beyond the scheduled year end date, with no new target date announced.

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